Unchanging High Rate of Medication Errors Demands New Solutions

In 2007, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report indicating at least 1.5 million people each year are the victims of some kind of medication error. According to CNN, a separate study from 2006 showed at least one hospital medicine error per patient, per day. These troubling statistics prompted many patient care advocates to publish suggestions for people who wanted to avoid becoming victims of drug mistakes.

Dr. Albert Wu, who assisted with the IOM report, offered the following tips:

  1. Get in your doctor’s face. Make sure you know what the doctor has prescribed, how much you should be taking and how often you should be taking it. Ask questions if you are confused.
  2. Get in your pharmacist’s face. Double check the information on your prescription bottle and again, ask questions. Do not assume you were not
    given the wrong medicine, make sure it is correct.
  3. When in the hospital, get your medication list in writing. Make sure you know what you are taking and how often you are taking it. You should also find out if you are being given pills or if it is an IV.
  4. Make sure you are getting YOUR medicine. Have the nurse verify the information on both the medicine and on your hospital ID bracelet before you take it.
  5. Get dramatic if you have to. If hospital employees do not listen to your concerns, make them listen. A seriously phrased verbal request should work.

These suggestions are good advice, but as a medicine error lawyerI know they cannot be the only solution to the high rate of drug errors made every day. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have more training and more knowledge about medications than patients typically do. It can also be very difficult for a hospital patient to keep track of all of his or her medications, particularly when they can change frequently.

Despite the fact many doctors have begun to use electronic prescription systems and many hospitals have turned to automated medication dispensers, the rate of drug errors has not significantly decreased. Health care providers cannot rely solely on technological advances and their patients to reduce the rate of medicine mistakes.

Pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors are not required to report their medication errors and often do not report them in order to avoid penalties. This needs to change and a system for tracking mistake commonalities needs to be implemented to truly address the problem of prescription mistakes.


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